The Reverend Dr. Lillian Daniel
October 14, 2007
First Congregational Church,
Scripture: Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between
The break-in was “an attack against our memory and our heritage,” Ms. Albanel told French radio France Info.
But part of what shocked people was that this seems to be trend, a
spate of attacks in
But this break-in that resulted in the four inch rip in the Monet
painting, happened during a yearly all-night festival of arts and music, the
White Night, when thousands of people pour into the streets. Spirits were
running particularly high that Saturday in
So five drunken partiers, burst into the museum for laughs, and one of them puts a fist through a priceless and irreplaceable Monet painting over a hundred years old. What struck me when I heard this was: how ungrateful. To be in the presence of something wonderful like that, and think, in a moment of revelry, I’ll put my fist through it. How ungrateful.
Last year, when I was at a meeting at the United Church of Christ in
There were six or seven of each of his famous scenes, the foggy bridges in London, the rocky arch formations on the sea, all those haystacks, each with just a slightly different cast of light to bring out the violet, the gold and the green. And then there were the water lilies. So many of those you just couldn’t take them in.
I am used to visiting a museum and seeing a few Monet’s, and often, because I love them, that will be my first and favorite stop, the place where I will linger the longest.
But in that exhibit of only Monet you felt like you were drowning in beauty. There was so much of it, you almost stopped being able to take it in.
And I reached my limit. You see, while I love museums, I can not stay in one for longer than one hour. It’s sad, because I am a grown up, but that’s my limit. So there I was with a once in a lifetime opportunity to see all those Monet’s and at minute 59, my mind started wandering to what I would eat for dinner.
At that time, I wondered, with someone like Monet, could there be too much of a good thing? But I couldn’t take any more of it it. And I had that same thought again, this time about myself. How ungrateful.
The drunken partiers in
But I, when surrounded by so much beautiful art, so many Monets, was also ungrateful. There was no way I could give all those paintings the love and gratitude they deserved.
But last week when I heard about the vandals in
Because ingratitude is funny that way. It is always more obvious in other people than it is to ourselves. It’s easy to spot someone else being ungrateful; harder to see it in ourselves.
In the gospel story this morning, we know who the hero is. It’s the one leper who came back to say thank you. I mean, this is not a mysterious parable. Really, it’s so much of a no-brainer we wonder why we even need to hear it.
There are ten people suffering with leprosy, a disease in which you can lose your arms and your legs, a contagious condition that sentenced the sufferer to live in exile and wander the world in company of other lepers. It’s the worst kind of ordeal. And somehow Jesus delivers them from it. Nine of them head off to the temple, but one, the Samaritan, heads back to thank Jesus. He’s the good guy of the story. The other nine are ungrateful. So much so, the story doesn’t even strike us as realistic. How would you not say thank you?
And we could stop right there, knowing who we would be in the story. We’d be the one who goes back and says thank you. The other nine are idiots. Or at worst, ungrateful. After all, ingratitude is always so much more noticeable in other people than in ourselves.
But let’s explore this a little more deeply, shall we? What was going on with the nine people who for some reason did not say thank you? Were they really just insensitive idiots?
Who were they anyway? Well, we know that they were Jewish, like Jesus.
This story takes place in between Galilee, a Jewish village, and
So the nine Jews, upon being healed, returned to their roots. They rushed off to the temple. There, presumably they would show gratitude to God in worship, but they were also going to the temple to get checked out. They needed to show that they were disease free before they would be allowed back into society. And after that, I am guessing that their next stop was their friends and their families.
But first they went to the temple. So they actually were doing what they were meant to do.
It’s easy to look at those nine and say: how ungrateful. But I doubt they were. People have all sorts of reasons for not saying thank you. One of them is not knowing the right person to thank.
You see, this healing story is pretty chaotic, and pretty unclear in the concrete details of cause and effect. Here, Jesus didn’t touch the sick people, as he does in other healing stories. It’s more like they called out to him, and he responded with a word, saying, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ and then as they did what he said to do, along the way, they were healed. So I think it’s possible they may not have even known Jesus was the one who cured them. After all, they were a band of beggars. They spent all day calling out to people for help. Suddenly they were well. Who knows where that came from? But they rushed back to their roots, to their temple, and I’m guessing they gave thanks to God.
But the Samaritan said thank you. Why? Because he was perfect? No, I think he’s pretty human and fallible too. But his circumstances were different.
You see, the Samaritan didn’t care about going to the Jewish temple. He
was not in his own territory, his family and friends were not right there
around the corner, but were in
Because of that, he may have been more open to the real details of the experience. And so as the other nine rush off, he turns back, realizes it was Jesus who healed him, and gives him thanks. Is he by nature a more grateful person? I doubt it. I think he just didn’t have anything else tempting him away from the moment. His circumstances, as hard as they were, allowed him to see something the other nine missed, and so we remember him as the hero, but really this is not a story about heroes.
I think this is ultimately a story about humility. A reminder of how easy it is for we human beings to get it wrong.
And if all we take from this story is that we should be like the tenth person who says thank you, we may miss the more complicated point, which is that we are more likely to be one of the nine. You could even deduce from the evidence a statistic, if your mind works that way. That human beings are nine times out of ten going to miss the opportunity to say thank you.
One thing I love about this little tale is how spare it is. There are very few details provided, and so much left out. Enough left out, so that it can become not a story about them, but about us. We can read ourselves into it.
But one detail that is provided is this about the Samaritan. It says, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back,” I love that phrase “turned back.” Because it seems to imply he too had forgotten for a moment about Jesus. Even the samaritan had gone along his way a bit before it hit him. So it had been a while. And he couldn’t just turn around to thank Jesus. He had to turn back, perhaps even walk a while. So he wasn’t perfect. He was just willing to correct his mistake.
It’s easy to accuse other people of being ungrateful. Much harder to know when we’ve been ungrateful ourselves. Because most of us don’t mean to be ungrateful. We just get caught up in other things. The beauty of gratitude is that it doesn’t have a time limit. You can always turn back. It’s never too late to remember to say thank you.
Jesus was not the only person to seek to heal the lepers. The famous Albert Schweitzer made his name as a theologian and scholar, publishing in 1906 The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a book that launched him in fame. But he was also a great musician, who had played organ at the age of nine in his father’s church and wrote a biography of Bach in 1905 and published a book on organ building and playing in 1906.
While a young man of such accomplishments could have sat back and took in all that success as deserved, this remarkable scholar and musician took the money he made from his speaking engagements and concerts, and put it toward medical school, deciding that now he wanted to be a medical missionary. By 1913, having obtained his M.D. degree, he founded his hospital at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa, where after a stint as a prisoner of war, and years of lecturing around the world, he spent the last half of his life.
With the funds earned from his own royalties and personal appearance fees and with those donated from all parts of the world, he expanded the hospital to seventy buildings which by the early 1960's could take care of over 500 patients in residence at any one time.
I almost hesitate to bring up someone like Albert Schweitzer in a sermon, because he seems so incredible as to be perfect. We hear about him and think, what a guy, but that’s not me. But may I suggest that there’s a little of him in all people of faith?
You see, he took the fruits of his success, the financial rewards of his work, as you take the fruits of your success, and rather than keep them for himself, he offered them up for the ministry.
And like you, he didn’t just take his money and give it to the first person who needed it. He invested in institutions, from the hospital to the church, knowing that it is through institutions that we do more than put a band aid on the problem. Through our institutions, we invest in carrying on the work from generation to generation.
For example, a hospital can become more than just an emergency room to treat the sick. It can also be a place of learning for cures for diseases and treatments as yet unimagined.
Similarly, the church is an institution that seeks to do more than meet the needs of people already in the room. The church has always relied upon the gifts of people of vision, who want to leave a legacy that will train up the children of the future in the values we hold dear in this present.
And when we make that investment, not for ourselves, but for an institution that we pray will outlast us, we are saying thank you, for all we have received. We’re being like the tenth leper, who turns back and says thank you.
In 1953, Schweitzer received the Nobel Peace Prize. With the $33,000 prize money, he started the leprosarium at Lambaréné, a sanctuary for people with leprosy, which was then still as feared a disease as it was in Jesus’ day.
Today, leprosy is treatable, thanks to the work of those medical missionaries who risked their own well being to care for others and learned the key to treatment. And today, we always associate Schweitzer with that disease, and his commitment to those who suffered with it. His commitment was to the people but let’s be bold and let’s be clear, his treasure served to build the institutions that became part of healing and learning on a much bigger scale.
Schweitzer was somebody who inspired the gratitude of patients and of the world, but he thought about gratitude himself quite a bit, and was grateful to those who gave him the strength to do his work of service.
While we think of him as someone who others would thank, he gave thanks himself, saying, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
The tenth leper knew what the other nine didn’t. It’s never too late to say thank you. But the nine lepers went back and gave thanks at the temple. I like to think they re-entered society and became leaders within their faith. And it is the legacy of the Jewish temples that continues in Christian churches today. All ten lepers said thank you in their way. None perfectly, but their sparks live on, one generation to the other, reminding us that it’s never too late to say thank you. Amen.
“Intruders Damage a Monet in